As we head into the International year of the reef, all eyes will once again turn to the preservation of Australia’s Greatest Living Treasure.
In 1997, the first official International Year of the Reef was declared to help raise awareness about worldwide threats to coral reefs and similar ecosystems.
A decade on, the International Coral Reef Initiative has designated 2008 as another official IYOR. This will no doubt mark a time when home-grown organisations like the Townsville-based Reef Check Australia – part of the UN’s worldwide coral reef monitoring network – will reclaim centre stage, to the benefit of their cause (and ultimately ours): reef protection in Australia.
Reef Check Australia’s tireless efforts have included researching and monitoring over 40 Queensland reefs through its flagship Great Barrier Reef Project. Since the world’s coral reefs are under such enormous pressure from climate change, diving and other tourist activities, Reef Check Australia has come up with some creative ways to continually raise awareness of the importance of protecting and preserving perhaps Australia’s greatest living treasure. To that end, RCA recently conducted a nationwide photography competition, appealing to all lovers of, and visitors to, the Great Barrier Reef to compose and submit images with the theme: “What do Australia’s coral reefs mean to you?”
Categories for the competition – launched in concert with the diving community’s Project AWARE – included Icons of the Reef, Animal Behaviour, The Reef In Our Hands and Creative Visions of Coral Reefs. The exceptional results were a natural fit for a magazine like Australian Traveller, and we’re proud to be able to present the following series of images from the competition and subsequent exhibition, from the top of the winner’s podium on down to the runners up and highly commendeds – with comments from each photographer on just what The Reef means to them.
Seranid Gaping – Highly Commended, Animal Behaviour by Chris Jones.
This is Daisy, a mature Malabar Cod, which has been befriended by frequent divers on the Agincourt Reef off Port Douglas. Often mistaken for Potato Cod, Malabar Cod aren’t particularly common and have no conservation status. There were no cleaner wrasse around when Daisy started gaping and no people anywhere near her, so she was either trying to dislodge something from her gill rakers or was just stretching those fish-crunching muscles in her jaws. I swam down and lay on the bottom a few metres away, then crept along the sand until I got close enough for the shot.
Leeward Life – Winner, Creative Visions of The Reef by Christopher Hamilton.
Both marine life and sea-going birds are able to use exposed reef to shelter from the relentless sea. The GBR has a fantastic diversity of life from the micro to the macro. Even the most dedicated diver or reef explorer cannot hope to experience even a fraction of what the world’s reef systems have to reveal. Conservation of tropical reefs is of serious global import, both for their own intrinsic value as well as their role in the biosphere.
Careful examination of our direct use and indirect impact on the reef is therefore necessary. Research should be the tool that allows regulations to reflect the needs of the reef, not the needs of the “users.”
Food of the Gods – Joint Winner, Animal Behaviour by Giles Winstanley.
Close relationships between different creatures on the reef are common, such as this emperor angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator) having scraps of food and parasites removed from its gills by a cleaner shrimp (Urocaridella antonbrunii).
This cleaning service is essential to the ongoing health of many reef fish, and provides a fascinating spectacle for those venturing into the underwater world.
Home Alone – Highly Commended, Creative Visions of the Reef by John Natoli.
A tiny Three-Spot Dascyllus all alone in this wonderful golden anemone, keeping guard . . . as he should. This image highlights the best-known relationship in the reef – ie, between the anemone and the anemone fish (they can be overtly territorial, in particular where any threat to their host anemone is concerned, but they’re largely regarded by humans as being cute).
They’ve become hugely popular since Finding Nemo, creating a booming trade in the poaching of these little guys to supply the aquarium industry. A method used to catch them in some countries includes the use of stun chemicals, with no regard given to the consequences on the fish and surrounding reef/marine life. This is a practice that should be banned.
Hook, Line & SInker – Winner, The Reef in our hands by Giles Winstanley.
The impacts of humans can be seen in many places, even in protected green zones. This was taken at Wheeler Reef on the GBR. Marine Protected Areas are often criticised for preventing fishermen from fishing good grounds, but if you look beyond the short term it’s becoming clear that such no-fishing areas can help maintain better overall fishing for longer. Naturally there are more issues involved, but in general taking care of corals reefs is a win-win situation for our future, and it always strikes me as shortsighted that we don’t invest more in looking after them.
Who’s Watching Whom? – Runner Up, Animal Behaviour by Matt Curnock.
This female dwarf minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata subspecies) has returned to the same site in the Ribbon Reefs each winter for the past several years.
Her unusual tail-standing and pirouetting behaviour has led her to be named “Pavlova”.
Here she approached me to within centimetres, displaying her underside while eyeballing the camera.
Reaching for the Sun – Joint Winner, Animal Behaviour by David Watson.
I found this beautiful sea cucumber on a rather uneventful dive at Norman Reef’s “wild side” on the northern GBR.
Australia’s coral reefs to me are a place of unparalleled beauty where I can go and switch off from the world, and all the problems and stress.
Instead I can focus on the animals and creatures in front of my mask, whether I’m diving, snorkelling, fishing or spear fishing. I always come back more relaxed and at peace.
Pick Me – Winner, Icons of the Reef by Gary Brennand.
This image of a Green Turtle was taken at Norman Reef on day trip out of Cairns. In terms of reef conservation, I don’t think enough is being done. Thankfully, organisations such as Reef Check are doing their bit and the public is becoming more aware of the need to protect this environment. Hopefully it won’t be too late.
For more info on Reef Check Australia, or to become involved research programs such as EcoAction and the Great Barrier Reef Project, call (07) 4724 3950 or visit www.reefcheckaustralia.org